It's not the flu

Many COVID survivors still have severe symptoms months later

A COVID patient.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

It's been six months since Zach got COVID, and he hasn't yet recovered. Zach — a previously fit, healthy 33-year-old attorney who's the son of two good friends — was never admitted to a hospital, because of an acute shortage of ICU beds. But over two months of coronavirus hell, he developed pneumonia, struggled for breath, coughed constantly, shivered under three blankets, and barely slept or ate. His chest felt like it was on fire. "There wasn't an inch of my body (truly) that wasn't in excruciating pain," he recounted in a Facebook post last week. Despite sophisticated medical care and an endless battery of tests, his chest still aches, he's breathless after a short walk, and he's too weak to work. Zach is one of a largely invisible legion of "long-haulers" — COVID survivors who continue to suffer a host of mystifying maladies. Studies suggest that about three-quarters of those who get very sick remain ill for months. No one knows if and when long-haulers will return to their pre-COVID selves. "For now, this is my normal," Zach said.

Whenever I see people blithely congregating without masks or social distancing, I think of Zach and a young member of The Week's staff who is also a long-hauler. Many younger Americans falsely assume that because most of the people COVID kills are over 70, they are safe. In reality, the coronavirus makes some younger people very sick for reasons no one fully understands; COVID roulette is a high-risk game. Long-haulers like Zach would tell you that this nasty virus is not "a little flu," and that you don't want it inside your body, attacking cells in your blood vessels, lungs, heart, and even brain. President Trump would have told you that, too, if you were speaking to him privately. The virus is "easily transmissible" and "a killer," Trump told Bob Woodard back in April. "This rips you apart." That's no lie.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.